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#RallyAid Revisited

#RallyAid

Six months ago, during a stale meta and a rough patch for Destiny players and organizers, I called for #RallyAid. I will admit it was a bit of a knee jerk reaction, but the points I made were ones I had thought through for quite some time and I stand by the decision to make a bit of a stink over the state of Fantasy Flight Game’s handling of a game we all love. Six months have come and passed, and Destiny is in another rough patch – the three month off-season. I figured it was time to dust off the ol’ #RallyAid points and see if they are still relevant to today’s issues.

Let’s dive in.

#1 A Real Release & Play Calendar

Ooph, this one is a mixed bag. We still don’t have a Release and Play Calendar, but FFG was communicative about the Way of the Force release issues and even gave a release quarter for Across the Galaxy before Way of the Force even hit the streets. They even threw in the additional tidbit that the Designers were already working on cool things for set 10. That is a lot of transparency from FFG, so kudos there. But then they kind of…went silent. We haven’t had any updates on Across the Galaxy’s release date for months.

Alright, so why is this point relevant to today? A lot of it is about transparency and trust, but I missed a big reason why a Release and Play Calendar is important: it is the foundation of the Hype Machine. A calendar is a constant and simple reminder to people when they need to start getting hyped for the next big thing, whether its a release or a tournament season. It helps community organizers plan leagues and seasons in advance, allows players plan purchases, helps content makers plan content release strategies and rent in advance those hard to find 15 person 5 bedroom AirBnBs with a table large enough for max player Battlestar Galactica.

But maybe it is as simple as expecting FFG to perform, at a minimum, as good as their competition. FFG’s competitors all have release and play calendars – from the likes of Magic and Pokemon to the bigger stretch of Bungie’s Destiny – you’ll see clear and constant communication from the designers on what to expect from the game when. And they do it for a reason: it FEEDS THE HYPE MACHINE.

#2 Better Prize Support

You’re probably reading this article right now and thinking “when was the last time I saw a new prize kit”? Well, lucky for you the next time you head to  your LGS you’ll (hopefully) get to see the freshly released season 3 kit. BUT WHO CARES. I’ll be honest, I haven’t even glanced at what prizes are in the season 3 kit. Destiny’s OP department (have those guys even played Destiny?) has had too many consecutive fails on what cards they choose to throw in those things. So lets talk about the tokens. I said it 6 months ago – the tokens are bland. I’m not saying they should ditch doing tokens, but they really need to up their game. Now that every Tom, Dick and Helen has their own laser cutter at home you can find better tokens then FFG produces on Etsy for a fraction of the prize kit cost.

But is it relevant to the off-season? Yes. My goodness, yes. Prizes, or loot, are what digital game companies have leaned on for the past few years to get players back into games without having to create any real new content. It is just the loot. Just come and play. For the loot. And it works pretty darn well to drag new players back into games, to get them to put more time into it, and to grind out for that new loot.

Do I think OP at your LGS should resemble a video game loot grind? Yah, I kind of do. When your friends can’t make game night, or drop out of the game, or you’re just sick of playing the same cards that have been out for far too long, having a prize to grind for is one last reason to get you through  the door.

This only works if the prizes are good, and right now they aren’t.  FFG needs to realize its competition is bigger than other CCGs and embrace that its competing against video games. Don’t agree with that? Go ahead and google why the railroads went bankrupt when airlines emerged. Market theory aside, in my dreamland FFG embraces the loot grind and takes it digital. Please, step into my dreamland.

Prize kits would come out more regularly and be tied to seasons much like in the video game realm. The kits sent to your LGS would contain the regular smattering of participation prizes (although hopefully OP would pick something better than Tinker). But they would also include coupon codes that players could earn, whether through participation or high placement. We would all have FFG OP Online accounts where we turn in those coupon codes and receive digital points to spend at the catered OP store. You’d spend your points on loot that changed each season. And come on, we’re dreaming so its good loot. Save up a ton of points? You can buy yourself this season’s nickel-plated Vader dice set, or a set of this season’s Solo card sleeves, or this season’s playmat, or…you see where I’m going here.

You might think this sounds crazy, nickel plated dice?! But we’re talking limited edition items that are easy for FFG to plan and stock for, and for what its worth, my Alibaba quote for 22mm nickel plated dice with custom printed image on each side was 67 cents per die… Too tough for FFG to organize? Please. I know a dozen community members off the top of my head, myself included, that could have the site ready to go in half a day. The real logistics are prize creation and delivery – something that FFG has proven time and again that they just aren’t great at. But, dare to dream.

 

#3 A Complete Starter Product

New players wandering in has dwindled down quite a bit, but this issue remains as relevant today as it was in the past. This one is hard to rant on because it is so fundamentally obvious to me why a complete starter is necessary for new players, and I know that you know why its so fundamentally obvious. But I guess we have to tell FFG, right? FFG, imagine sending your kids off to do any sport with the kind of starter set you provide new Destiny players, and they have to use that starter set at their very first game. You gave them the ball but didn’t give them cleats. A jersey but no pads. Skates but no stick. This is the pain you put new players through – they just can’t be expected to perform at all if they walk in the door and want to play with a starter. Your starter package doesn’t compare to any other game’s starter package, your starter package is about as good as a bread starter: necessary to make the recipe but you wouldn’t want to eat it raw.

Alright, maybe I should stop with the metaphors and analogies while I’m ahead. Hopefully you get the point. I will be thrilled if FFG listened six months ago and the starter coming out with the next base set is complete and competitive, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. But if we, as a community, call for this loudly enough, maybe we will get it for the base set after that.

Where to from here?

2018 was an interesting year for Destiny. It grew quite a bit as a game, but FFG did not. The issues raised by #RallyAid are as relevant as ever. If you agree with that, feel free to email, tweet, Facebook message, or if you’re in MN kindly walk up to and mention in person, all the issues in #RallyAid.

Looking forward to more Artificery ranting? We’ll be covering the tournament season and competitive scene and how it feeds the HYPE MACHINE in an upcoming podcast. Prepare for yours truly to compare his tournament organization skills to the likes of the World and National organizers. And more…

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Are Side Boards a Good Idea in Star Wars Destiny?

Star Wars: Destiny Side-board

This guest article is written by Mike Christiansen of Smuggler’s Run Gaming.

Side boarding is a game concept that allows a player to bring extra cards not included in their standard deck build above and beyond the maximum allowable number of cards.  The cards in her side board cannot exceed a certain count and are documented prior to the start of competition.  The player is allowed to change cards in her deck between games or matches that she feels are either not working or that will be more effective in the current tournament.

Side boarding or Side decking is not a new concept to competitive card games.  Magic the Gathering tournaments have included a side board since I first started playing in 1997.  Other games such as Yugioh and Dragon Ball Super all have rules for replacing cards in your deck mid competition.  Why not in Star Wars Destiny?

Any time you add a rule or change a major game concept some questions needs to be answered.  What has changed in the game that makes you feel that something needs to be corrected, and what are you trying to accomplish?  These questions will have different answers depending on the group and game, but in our group the change started with the proliferation of the Launch Bay OTK deck and then the rise of the mill deck in our local scene.  Our hope in experimenting with a side deck was to allow players more flexibility and reduce the number of auto losses to certain decks.  Vehicles, for instance, often sit down across from someone running an obvious mill character pairing and spend the next 25 minutes playing a game they know they have no chance of winning.  What if you could increase the level of strategy while at the same time reduce the number of these “auto losses?”

Another question that needs to be answered before altering core game concepts is what are the negative side effects of the change?  For side boarding in Destiny they are pretty obvious.  The game was built around the concept of an easy to play game with quick rounds and back and forth action.  Adding 6 cards to deck construction increases complexity.  It adds time to game rounds.  It also makes it harder for newer players to be competitive as it adds another layer of strategy to the game.

Our lab for this experiment was our local Monday Night Dice casual tournament.  We often task our players with playing within a theme for bonus chances at prizes, so the group is pretty flexible and almost always game to try new things.  I announced that everyone would be allowed to bring a 30 card standard deck with a six card side board.  The side board could only be events, upgrades, and supports.  You would sit down across from your opponent, examine their set up, and have 2 minutes to make a 30 card deck from the 36 cards you brought that night.  I brought my eYoda/eCassian Aggro deck:

https://swdestinydb.com/decklist/view/23107/breakerofchainsyodacassianaggrowwave-1.0

It runs 4 cards that are useless against mill in Force Illusion (x2) and Second Chance (x2).  If I played an obvious mill deck then I would remove those for Riposte (x2), Obi-Wan Kenobi’s Lightsaber, and Fond Memories.  I was also packing a CR-2 Heavy Blaster and Friends in Low Places.

Let’s examine some of the key questions and answers after collecting four rounds of game play data:

Did we accomplish the goal of increasing flexibility and adding layers of strategy?  The answer to this questions was a resounding yes!  Allowing a player to bring a tool box of sort to deal with their weaknesses makes every deck more flexible.  This causes you to think about what your opponents could be bringing prior to the event.

Did we lower the number of auto losses to certain decks?  I need more data on this one.  One side effect of having a side deck is that no one brought mill to the event.  The specter of people being able to tech against your mill deck on the fly was spooky enough to discourage it being played at all.

Did it increase the complexity of the game?  Absolutely.  Several people struggled to get their deck right in the time allotted.  It would take extra rules and oversite to use the side board in a competitive setting.

Did it make it harder for newer players to compete?  I didn’t have any new players show up, but there is one social media-averse player in my group who didn’t get the memo and didn’t have a side board.  This is probably what a new player would feel like if they showed up to your local and your vet players were able to swap out cards based on the new player’s set up.  It would be a negative for sure.

Most frustrated players I speak to about Star Wars Destiny express a similar aversion to be being out of control of their game experience.  All of the dark days of the game were times when your opponent got execute their game plan and there was nothing you could do about it.  I’m talking about watching your opponent play 3 upgrades on FN-2199 after you claimed only to play Boundless Ambition and then play 2 more;  getting demolished by Sabine after she rolls in, plays Never Tell Me the Odds, and activates Running Interference; not being able to play any cards or resolve any dice against a mill deck.  Side decking increases a player’s control over their game experience.  I’m thinking that most would agree that is a good thing.

I was not in favor of a side deck concept in Destiny prior to this week.  It took some prodding from an associate to get me to try it.  I now believe it warrants more experimentation.

 

 

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BOUNTY vs HUNTER

Bounty vs Hunter

This last Friday was our inaugural use of our BOUNTY vs HUNTER System at The Portland Game Store and it was a blast. We devised the system as a way to spice up regular Destiny play without having to fuss with ELO or league point spreadsheets. The system pits one player, the bounty, against a list of players, the hunters. The bounty is the top player from your previous event, and the hunters are the players they get paired with during Swiss.

We created two play mats to support the system, one for the bounty and another for the hunters. The first time a player is a bounty they sign the BOUNTY mat. If during the season they become the bounty again, they add a mark to their name to track their score – being the bounty more than once is tough to pull off since it usually means they just beat every hunter put against them.

Hunters track their score a bit differently from the bounty. A player only gets to sign the HUNTER mat if they defeat a bounty, and then each time after that when they defeat a bounty they add a score next to their name to track their progress.

At the end of the season the player who has the most scores on the BOUNTY mat is awarded that as their prize – and gets to be the first bounty of the next season. The player with the most scores on the HUNTER mat is awarded that as their prize – and gets to be the first hunter of the next season. If players are tied on scores near the end of the season then the final event is a tie breaker series between the tied hunters and bounties.

That is the system in a nutshell. You can check out our first four Rounds of Swiss in the video below. Hopefully I will get a shot to take down next week’s bounty!